Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone) in Columbia Pictures’ ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP.
Santa Monica, California. Somewhere over the rainbow. A literal rainbow that exists just within the gates of a studio lot that has been here since the Golden Age of Hollywood. Once upon a time, it was MGM Studios. But now it is owned by Sony Pictures aka Columbia. I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to such things. Filmmaking. Old Hollywood. The dream factory, where some of the greatest works of art to ever grace a roll of celluloid were born. So, when LRM Online was invited out to Sony for a look at Zombieland: Double Tap, I jumped at the opportunity to visit.
After parking, I waited for my contact from Sony at one of the buildings across from the parking lot. Inside the lobby, flanking either side of the room, sat trophy cases containing Oscars for famous movies, including one of my favorites– Lawrence Of Arabia. One can’t help but feel a sense of awe when standing face to face with the highest form of cinematic praise around. But I wasn’t there for very long. Soon I was moving across the studio to the post-production facilities. This part of the lot is particularly beautiful. The Art Deco design of the building facades that house what I assume are mostly screening rooms, sound mixers, and editing bays, reminded me further of classic Hollywood. One screening room was designed to look like an old Lowes Theater.
This could be anywhere, I thought as I passed a gold plaque that said “The Burns Building” with an illustrated cigar underneath. Another building was like a mini version of the Ghostbusters firehouse, the words “Ghost Corps” emblazoned on the door. The classic Ecto Mobile sat outside the firehouse, too. But you can’t find stuff like this anywhere. Only in the movies, only in Hollywood, I said to myself. But I was quickly interrupted by the fact that I was at my destination.
I was ushered into a small block building with off white walls that smelled like old paper. In fact, everything about this studio is truly old, save for the state of the art computers it takes to edit a film nowadays. Once inside, a man with glasses and blonde hair introduced himself to me. At first, I didn’t recognize him and passed him off as one of Sony’s employees. “We were in Burbank last week, in a much larger space, but they moved us in here.” He apologized. It hit me: This was Director Ruben Fleischer, responsible for films like Zombieland, Venom, and most recently Zomblieland: Double Tap.
Fleischer began to talk about how the sequel got off the ground, explaining “I reached out to the studio and they were excited about it and Paul and Rhett were very busy in the middle of Deadpool so they came on as executive producers and we worked with a writer named Dave Callaham to come up with a story for a sequel and we did a couple of drafts of that until the point where Paul and Rhett came in and did their pass on it and it was that draft that the cast all agreed to go make” It was important that they got this right. In filmmaking the script is everything, and there’s always pressure for the sequel to be as good as the original. “Woody has said of all the movies he’s made, when fans come up to him, the movie that they always mention is Zombieland and so he felt a real responsibility that we don’t tarnish the original in making a sequel so he especially was very exacting when it came to the script,” Fletcher added.
I could tell he was passionate about this project. In fact, so much so that they turned the film around in nearly ten months. “As soon as Venom was done I had a week off and then immediately started prep on this movie and was in Atlanta again, where we shot the original and prepped it in the fall and started shooting in January and yeah. Now it’s August and we’re just finishing post and it comes out in October so it was a pretty quick turnaround from the actual moment of getting a script and actors lined up but it was a long ten years between the original to the release of this one,” Fleischer explained. When asked why it was so important to hit that ten-year goal post, he responded: “I think it was pretty important to us because it gives a little bit of a why now”.
But it wasn’t a rush according to him. “I think sometimes when things have too much time you overthink it,” Fleischer went on. “the only two movies that I’ve never done re-shoots on are the original Zombieland and this Zombieland. I didn’t do a day of re-shoots on either.” That’s very rare in-studio filmmaking. One could argue this was due to budget, but with so many academy nominees in your cast, it may be difficult. And when asked if he ever considered a sequel without the original cast, he retorted: “to think of doing it without them, I can’t imagine what that version would be like. Maybe down the road we find other survivors and other outposts and they can develop that as a T.V. show or something but no we definitely didn’t ever consider any other version.”
So, with the computer was booted up, the Avid live and ready to go, all the clips stacked side by side on the timeline: Zombieland: Double Tap was in post-production. But they had been editing on it even as they were shooting –which is standard, according to Fleischer. “I think that’s pretty standard but especially when time’s short it’s good to just get a jump on it, but it also is super helpful as you’re shooting and the editor’s looking at all the dailies and cutting things together and you might say, ‘Oh, you might want to pick this up, or this scene’s not really working, maybe you can get an insert of this or you may want to re-shoot this scene because I don’t know how to make it work’ or just having a second set of eyes. Because they’re seeing it unbiased.” As a filmmaker myself, I agreed when he concluded, “it’s always really helpful to have an editor cutting while you’re doing it”.
The first clip we were shown was set in the White House– where the characters from the original have been living –and takes place just after something happens that causes Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) to leave. “Wichita leaving hit me like a shotgun blast,” Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) explained to Tallahassee, who is being forced to listen to his woes as they shop in an abandoned shopping mall and ride on Security Segways. Columbus eventually heads off for some candles, complaining about the smell of “Z Land”. This is where he bumps into Madison (Zoey Deutch), the blonde-headed bubblehead who seems oddly out of place in this post-apocalyptic wasteland. “Oh, my God, no. I don’t even eat meat. I’m a vegetarian. Vegan, actually.” She exclaimed after Columbus mistook her for a Zombie, showcasing just how absurd this character is meant to be. I found myself chuckling every time she was on screen. Much to Tallahassee’s despair, Columbus quickly invites Madison back to their White House dwellings. She’s totally not Columbus’ type, but seems to be a rebound, which should make for some comedic contrast next to Stone’s more intelligent Wichita.
“So that’s Madison who’s played by Zoey Deutch who just blew me away in the audition. She just came in with that character. She grew up in the valley and just had this super realized version of that character. Which on paper was a traditional dumb blonde millennial or something like that but she elevated it in such an original way,” explained Fleischer “She really brought so much to it and it’s like this really nice, new energy within the dynamic of our core group which is really, really fun and she just shines in this movie. She’s really great.”
It’s been ten years since the events of the original film according to Fleischer, who said: “the real marker is Abigail just because the 12-year-old girl from the last movie just looks very different in this one. I don’t think [we] officially say ten years but as far as I’m concerned it’s ten years, because that’s how long it’s been.” So obviously they had to be conscious of the reality of how things would look and feel after that long in the apocalypse. “There’s a great … I think it’s History Channel or Discovery series called Life After People and it talks about the phases of what happens if people were to just be gone tomorrow and how nature takes back over the country and there’s also a book that I read, I think, The World Without Us or something like this. I forget the name but they both are studies on how slowly … Really it’s about nature. The way it would start to come back and whether it’s animals or vegetation, our structures would crumble and stuff like that.”
“That’s a real justification. Ultimately unless someone pressed power off, everything would keep going until, ultimately, the dams would get jammed or whatever the things that can break, the electricity would somehow explode or something like that. But for a good 15 or 20 years, according to these things, it would work,” he said, and that was when he had his editor go off-script. He asked him to pull up the entire movie so he could show us the front of the White House; Brown and green weeds and brush covering a deteriorating structure. “There’s no one there to tend the greens like there would be overgrown grass and then lines and stuff.”
The next clip shown took place inside the White House. Tallahassee and Columbus hear a strange noise and emerge from their rooms, baring George Washington’s Old Flintlock and a Samurai Sword that is explained to be a gift to Dwight D. Eisenhower from the Emperor of Japan. They quickly learn that the noises are Wichita, back home after running off. She explains that Little Rock is gone. Ran away with Berkley, a guitar-playing pacifist who has– according to Wichita: “survived on a strict policy of conflict avoidance. Like Gandhi.” This infuriates Tallahassee, who reacts as her surrogate Father. The two hit the road for Graceland, legendary singer Elvis Presley’s famous abode.
“So she splits and then the three of them basically have to go get Little Rock because the other thing that has happened in our world in the ten years is the zombies have evolved in different ways. In a minute we have a prologue which explains that but one of the ways that they’ve evolved is there’s a new species that our heroes call the T-800s that are faster and stronger and harder to kill and so they know that this threat is out there and they’re concerned that she could be in trouble especially when all she has is a hippie and a guitar. He’s a pacifist so she’s in trouble.” Fleischer explained, adding: “So this is what sends them on their journey to rescue Little Rock.”
Expanding on the characters living in the White House, he explained: “I love this notion that they’ve been living at the White House for a while and they can, because it’s post-apocalypse, do whatever they want so you can see there’s the spaceman, like they went to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and Tallahassee kind of got that, the big buck hunters. All these different things that he loves and made the ultimate man cave which you can only do in the post-apocalypse where you can go pilfer whatever you want and have it at his disposal.”
We’ve seen Maddison and Berkley, but are these characters living in a more populated Zombieland? “It’s more individuals but … I don’t think I’m giving too much away but Little Rock and Berkeley are heading to a place called Babylon, which is a commune. It’s full of other young, hippie, millennial types. Kind of like some Burning Man, Coachella type of vibe and it’s at the top of a tower. They’ve taken an office tower and they live on the roof and it’s protected on all sides by walls. So it’s like a safe commune. And that’s at the end of the movie. I don’t think I’m giving it away by saying that but that’s where she and Berkeley are headed to and that’s where, ultimately, our heroes will find them and that, perhaps, may be a place where there’s a giant, epic zombie battle.”
But don’t expect many surprise cameos (like Bill Murray’s in the original) as Fleischer, when asked said: “No the trailer has everybody. You saw Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch in that which is our surprise but it’s such a funny sequence that we wanted to tease it without giving too much away. It’s like they meet doppelganger versions of themselves.” This kind of contradicts recent rumors and even the film’s IMDB page, which claims another Ghostbuster appears in the film, Dan Akroyd.
But what was the most important change, for Fleischer as a director, to really move the story forward? “For me, the things I got excited about were that ten years later, just changing the world because the first movie really took place immediately after the apocalypse happened so it wasn’t so different from our world. There’s one scene where they’re just walking, there’s a tank in the background, there’s signs of a protest so we trying to have little things. Like in the mall, even, we used signs from the original movie where it says, “Warning, contamination” as if the virus had just started. But I really liked the idea of trying to, as authentically as possible, represent that post-apocalyptic world. So that was exciting for me as a filmmaker.”
They rolled some more footage. One clip showcased the improv capabilities of the cast, another introduced Nevada played by Rosario Dawson, who’s made The Hounddog Hotel– an Elvis themed hotel –her home. Fleischer explained her as “a real lover of the King and a kindred spirit to Tallahassee.” There’s even a nod here to Bill Murray’s cameo in the original where Nevada uses the term “Murraying” explaining “Murraying him? You know, when you shoot someone because you think they’re a zombie? Apparently, that’s how Bill Murray died.”
We also learned that we’re not the first people to see this footage. Apparently, they’ve been test screen it in other states. When asked about the reactions the film has been getting, Fleischer replied: “Yeah, they were fantastic. The thing that’s most gratifying to me is, one of the questions we ask people is, “How does this compare to the original?” And I don’t want to blow too much smoke up my own ass but overwhelmingly, like 90% of the people said this is as good, if not better, than the original.”
He went on to add: “That was the thing that, going into this, all of us were so nervous about. It’s tough to make a sequel that stands up to the original especially one that’s over the course of time become a cult favorite. So we all just were hoping that we would honor the original and it was really gratifying to have the audiences tell us that we did. Please don’t make it sound self-aggrandizing, that’s not my intent it just, if anything, is meant to reflect how important it is to all of us that we try and elevate it and make a movie that can stand on its own and I feel proud that I think we have.”
With that in mind, Fleischer kept in mind the traps sequels usually fall into, in order to avoid them. “Yeah, I think maybe it was subconscious. It’s not like I studied a lot of sequels and said, “Where did they make the wrong turn?” I think just making it feel like an original story and, maybe to a degree, time was on our side that way. It wasn’t just a rehash, perhaps that’s why the first attempt didn’t work. Whereas this one we have the time to figure it out and develop these new, I think the new characters in this … It’s not The Searchers but this idea that, “Oh the girl is missing and they have to find her” is not an unfamiliar story. The first movie’s a road trip, this is a road trip. There’s a destination, there’s a purpose. It’s not just gratuitous driving around, they’re on a mission. And the fun of the movie, like any road trip movie and some of my favorites, Vacation or Midnight run or anything like that, are where you have a ticking clock and you got to get there and you just build and it’s as much fun along the way and that’s what we tried to do.”
But don’t count out a trilogy. When asked about a possible third film he said: “No, we didn’t lay any bread crumbs for a future one but Emma said something that’s super funny to me, which is she hopes that every ten years we can make a Zombieland and almost like in Boyhood, or something, type way we can just check in with our characters and see how they’re doing in the post-apocalypse. I think we all have so much love for this movie and for each other that it would be a joy to get back together again, make another movie. But it obviously hinges on what audiences think of this and we would also have to come up with a story worth telling again.”
All this talk of sequels made me wonder why Zombieland 2 and not Venom 2? “They’re shooting in November, Venom 2, so they’re prepping now. They’ve been working on it all summer and even before they had a director they were making plans to do it and so it just didn’t line up because I’m going to be on this for another month or two. It comes out October 18th and they start shooting in November, so just logistically couldn’t work.”
Finally, after being informed there was only enough time for one last question, we asked Fleischer what was the biggest change that stood out to him from his experience on the original. “I think the biggest thing was our collective experience. Woody was the only one who really knew what he was doing but me, Jesse, and Emma, they’d done much smaller movies prior to this and I hadn’t done any movies so I think, for me, it was such a huge learning curve on the first one whereas on this one I felt like we were all firing on all of our cylinders. Emma’s like the greatest actress working today, she is just … I can’t say enough good things. She’s just absolutely exceptional. When I watch the movie now, because I’ve seen it thousands of times, I just watch her. And when you watch the movie, if you just watch her reactions and all the sudden things, she’s so real in every moment, she’s just incredible.”
And that was it. As quickly as I entered, I left. Afterward, I went directly home and watched the original Zombieland. I was quickly reminded how much time has passed since I first saw it in theaters, but the film still stands as a uniquely fun ride and the jokes hold up very well. If the entire film is as funny as the footage I seen in that tiny editing bay at Sony, I’m confident this will truly be at least as good as the original. Zombieland: Double Tap is in theaters October 17th and should prove to satisfy your Halloween zombie cravings.
What do you think? Are you excited for Zombieland: Double Tap? Let us know in the comments!
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